Greater Female Participation, Gender-Responsive Approaches Key for Tackling Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Speakers Stress as Women’s Commission Opens Session
Responses to climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradations require active participation of women, who are the most affected by the impacts of those global challenges, speakers told the opening day of the Commission on the Status of Women’s annual session today, stressing the need to break away from male-oriented solutions.
“We are still living with the results of millennia of patriarchy that excludes women and prevents their voices from being heard,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, stressing that everyone — including men and boys — should be working for women’s rights and gender equality.
Women occupy just one third of decision-making positions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement on climate change, and only 15 per cent of environment ministers are women, he pointed out. Around the world, just one third of 192 national energy frameworks include gender considerations, and gender is rarely considered in climate financing.
The sixty-sixth session of the Commission, taking place from 14 to 25 March, brought together representatives of Member States, United Nations entities and non-governmental organizations from all regions of the world. The priority theme is: “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”.
Commission Chair Mathu Joyini (South Africa) said that it could not be timelier to discuss gender inequality as the world faces the greatest sustainable development challenges, including climate change and environmental and disaster risks. These challenges disproportionately affect women and girls in rural and indigenous communities and in conflict settings. However, women are also agents of change in addressing them.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that, although women are stewards of the planet, feminist leadership on peace or climate action remains in the minority. There must be women leaders because “male-dominated teams will come up with male-dominated solutions”, she said, and “we’ve had enough of male-dominated solutions”. It is therefore critical to put women at the heart of environmental decision-making. Ensuring a just transition to a green, sustainable future requires gender‑responsive approaches to reorienting finance flows and economic models and investing in resilience and capacity-building.
Sima Bahous, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said that Member States have already made many important commitments to gender equality through multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Rio conventions and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Now is the time to implement what has already been agreed and create gender action plans where there are gaps. By investing in women’s resilience, “we are building the defences of the future, as well as the assets of today”, she said. “Women are the solution multipliers,” she continued, calling upon all to re-commit to the full and meaningful inclusion of the world’s women and girls in climate solutions, as leaders, partners, innovators, implementers and co-creators.
Gladys Acosta Vargas (Peru), Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that the Committee is alarmed by the increasing attacks, threats, harassment and killings faced by indigenous women human rights defenders advancing their environmental, land and territorial rights, and those advocating against the implementation of development projects without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned. The Committee is currently drafting a general recommendation calling on States to ensure the safety and support the work of these women engaged in advocacy for environmental protection and climate justice.
Also addressing the Commission was Joaniita Babirye, co-founder of Girls for Climate Action and a youth leader with Feminist Action for Climate Justice, who reported that, within the past five years, ecosystems have encroached on her hometown of Jinja, Uganda. Whenever it rains, houses flood, people lose their crops and communities get exposed to water-borne diseases. “Families — now climate refugees — have been forced to move to camps sites for shelter, and where possible, a fresh start to life,” she said. Climate change, left unattended to, will tear communities apart, and as the crisis intensifies, humanity will be fighting over the few available resources, she warned.
Following the opening segment, the Commission began its general discussion. Lesotho’s representative, speaking for the Group of African States, said that, while Africa is not responsible for the factors causing climate change, it is the most vulnerable to climate change given its low capacity to adapt. Women in rural areas, as their financial resources dwindle, are forced to flee their homes, settling in camps and urban dwellings. In those circumstances, women can end up supporting themselves and their families through child marriage and prostitution, and also be subjected to trafficking, violence and exploitation. Therefore, the gender gap must be closed in access to education, information and skills to support women’s and girls’ resilience.
Sudan’s Minister for Social Development, speaking for the Group of Arab States, stressed that it was essential to involve women in climate action through establishing national and regional bodies to implement international normative frameworks and conventions. The Group’s priority focuses on economic empowerment of women through regional cooperation led by the League of Arab States, in the areas of the green and blue economies.
In the afternoon, the Commission held two ministerial round-table discussions — one on the theme “Climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies, and programmes: advancing gender equality through holistic and integrated actions from global to local”, and the other on the theme “Women’s voice and agency: good practices towards achieving women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and decision-making in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”.
At the meeting’s outset, the Commission adopted an annotated provisional agenda for its sixty-sixth session (document E/CN.6/2022/1) and an addendum (document E/CN.6/2022/1/Add.1) containing its organization of work.
The Commission elected, by acclamation, Antje Leendertse (Germany) and Māris Burbergs (Latvia) as Vice-Chairs of the Commission for its sixty-sixth and sixty‑seventh sessions, and Song Hye Ryoung (Republic of Korea), as Vice-Chair for its sixty-sixth session. Pilar Eugenio (Argentina) was designated as Rapporteur.
The Commission appointed Morocco and Iraq to serve on the Working Group on Communications on the Status of Women for the sixty-sixth session, as well as Turkey for the sixty-sixth and sixty-seventh sessions.
The other speakers in the opening segment were Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council; Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women; and Maria Belen Paez, co-founder of the Asociación Terra Mater and global advocate and activist for human rights and the rights of nature dedicated to the conservation of the Amazon.
Also delivering statements in the general discussion were the representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), Belgium (on behalf of the LGBTI Core Group), Belarus (on behalf of Group of Friends of the Family), Cambodia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Angola (on behalf of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries), Turkey (for Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Australia) and Botswana (on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries).
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 March, to continue its work.
MATHU JOYINI (South Africa), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, said that the current session will be held mostly in person, with some virtual meetings. She had hoped for a return to the normal modality, but the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to cause restrictions. Nonetheless, the hybrid format will allow a maximum number of participants. This year’s Commission will tackle the theme, “gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.” It will also review progress on agreed conclusions of the sixty‑first session regarding women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. In addition, the Commission will consider emerging issues, including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and sustainable future.
It could not be timelier to discuss gender inequality as the world faces the greatest sustainable development challenges, including climate change and environmental and disaster risks, she said. These challenges disproportionately affect women and girls in rural and indigenous communities and in conflict settings. However, women are also agents of change in addressing these challenges. This year’s session can be used to advance women’s empowerment. Stressing the importance of making all policies gender-responsive, she said South Africa had done so, recognizing the special role played by women. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action commits States to ensuring that women can fully exercise their human rights. Their rights, including reproductive rights, must not be limited by conditions created by disasters and environmental challenges, she said, stressing that COVID-19 has obstructed, or in some cases reversed, progress on gender equality. This year’s Commission should advance a global normative framework on gender equality, key for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Gender equality can be made a reality by harnessing partnerships among all stakeholders, she said.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that this year’s Commission confronts the unprecedented emergencies of the climate crisis, pollution, desertification and biodiversity loss, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of new and ongoing conflicts. Everywhere, women and girls face the greatest threats and the deepest harm and they are taking action to confront the climate and environmental crises, yet they continue to be largely excluded from the rooms where decisions are taken. Women and girls living in small island nations, least developed countries and places affected by conflict are impacted most of all. Women suffer most when local natural resources including food and water come under threat and have fewer ways to adapt.
Women occupy just one third of decision-making positions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement on climate change, and only 15 per cent of environment ministers are women, he pointed out. Around the world, only one third of 192 national energy frameworks include gender considerations, and gender is rarely considered in climate financing. “We are still living with the results of millennia of patriarchy that excludes women and prevents their voices from being heard,” he said, stressing that everyone — including men and boys — should be working for women’s rights and gender equality. He said that his first-ever report on the links between the climate emergency and gender equality outlines concrete steps to put women and girls at the centre of climate and environmental policy.
Noting the negative impacts on women of the pandemic, he said gender equality and women’s rights must be at the heart of a renewed social contract that is fit for today’s societies and economies. At the global level, he said his report Our Common Agenda proposes a re-balancing of power and resources through a New Global Deal, with gender equality a pre-requisite. The report proposes a New Agenda for Peace with the goal of reducing all forms of violence — including gender-based violence — and putting women and girls at the heart of security policy. “The climate and environmental crises, coupled with the ongoing economic and social fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, are the defining issues of our time,” he said, stressing that collective response will chart the course for decades to come. To forge the sustainable future, women and girls must be front and centre, leading the way.
COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission’s work is central for Council as it guides a pandemic recovery that is centred on people and gender-sensitive. The Commission’s priority theme this year, “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”, is closely aligned with the Council’s own priorities to address the triple planetary crisis: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. These escalating challenges, which affect women and girls much more severely and disproportionately, must be addressed urgently. Gender must be mainstreamed into all plans, policies and programmes. Gender-responsive approaches are urgently required to address the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and disaster risk reduction.
“The work of [the Commission on the Status of Women] is important now, more than ever before, given all the challenges that women and girls are facing,” he said. “We must, therefore, ensure that this Commission functions in an efficient, effective, transparent and inclusive manner.” The Commission should leverage the expert analysis to produce evidence-based and action-oriented assessments, and develop sound policy recommendations that use integrated approaches to advance the 2030 Agenda and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. As the Commission’s parent body, the Council remains committed to support its work and looks forward to benefiting from its expert analysis and recommendations for making tangible progress towards achieving gender equality and empowerment of women, everywhere. “The people we serve — particularly women and girls — will be counting on the outcomes of this Session to help them navigate these challenges,” he said.
ABDULLA SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, noted that no country has fully achieved equality and empowerment for women and girls since the Commission laid out its guiding principles in 1947. Women have the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and develop practical solutions, yet they are still a largely untapped resource. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training and technology, and limited access to political decision-making spheres often prevent them from playing a full role in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges. It was essential that women’s right to participate at all levels of decision-making be guaranteed in climate change policies and programmes. Although climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes may provide new employment and livelihood opportunities, failure to address the structural barriers women face to access their rights will increase gender-based inequalities and intersecting forms of discrimination, he stressed.
While women have entered the labour market in large numbers in recent years, he continued, gender-based discrimination and segregation in the labour market, as well as weak regulations, confine women to jobs that are low paid and of poor quality in terms of working conditions and access to social protection. Women’s exploitation in the labour market is further compounded by their disproportional share of unpaid care responsibilities. “The result is that women’s unpaid household and care work subsidizes the economy for free. Recognition is growing worldwide that our economic system needs profound reforms,” he said, adding that “we need to ensure that human rights form the ethical framework for macroeconomic policies and review their impact on women.” He urged the international community to commit to challenge discriminatory social norms and gender stereotyping that underpin inequality in women’s work. As women gain more representation within decision-making bodies, Member States need to commit to develop gender action plans that combine climate action with efforts to improve gender equality, he said.
INGER ANDERSEN, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that the triple planetary crisis — climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution — is only making an already unequal world more unequal and more divided. She noted 70 per cent of women live in poverty, with extreme weather events reducing agricultural productivity, and some countries experiencing a 300 per cent increase in domestic violence and sexual and gender‑based violence following tropical cyclones and typhoons. Violence against women environmental defenders is likewise on the rise. “As we chip away at the natural world, daily tasks like securing water, food and fuel take longer,” she said. Women are at a higher risk from indoor air pollution, toxic chemicals in the workplace and poor sanitation. In response, she called for “change in our own organizations,” noting UNEP’s new medium-term strategy from 2022 to 2025 prioritizing gender equality and women’s empowerment, aligned with the Secretary‑General’s Our Common Agenda articulating the transformational shifts that will facilitate women’s economic inclusion, investment in the care economy, and green jobs.
“We all know women are stewards of our planet — but whether it is on peace or on climate change, feminist leadership remains in a minority,” she stated. Data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature shows that, in 2020, women held 15 per cent of top jobs as ministers of environmental sectors. There must be women leaders because “male-dominated teams will come up with male‑dominated solutions”, she said, and “we’ve had enough of male-dominated solutions”. In reinvigorating environmental multilateralism, putting women at the heart of environmental decision-making is critical. Ensuring a just transition to a green, sustainable future requires gender-responsive approaches to reorienting finance flows and economic models, and investing in resilience and capacity‑building. She cited the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, where countries delivered on a landmark resolution to kick-start negotiations on a global agreement to end plastic pollution. “This historic resolution can have a historic impact on women, who are at the very heart of transforming the plastics value chain, and indeed our move to a circular economy,” she stated.
MARIA BELEN PAEZ, co-founder of the Asociación Terra Mater and global advocate and activist for human rights and the rights of nature dedicated to the conservation of the Amazon, said the role of women in the context of climate change is becoming increasingly visible and exposed, especially in rural and forested areas, such as the Amazon, pacific coast and Andes regions. Women are primarily in charge of planting seeds, caring for farms and market gardens, and protecting and preparing the home for children, adolescents and elderly adults. Yet, existing policies of mitigation at the national and subnational levels are not sufficient to safeguard or activate the participation of women when it comes to their human rights, territorial rights and their rights to nature.
“Women are absolutely linked to their natural environment,” she emphasized, including from the sacred and holistic perspectives. However, organizational and institutional leadership is conducted by males, which foregrounds other ambitions, goals and aspirations affecting smaller activities in rural areas. Women have opted to organize themselves in communities to speak with one voice on an altering environment, including women in the Amazon rejecting the expansion of industrial borders there. She further cited the role of midwives in strengthening maternal‑infant health, including using traditional knowledge and generating greater female participation at multiple levels. While women have always been vulnerable, they have also been resilient, she noted, adding that climate change provides opportunities for women to show greater leadership when it comes to caring for the planet.
JOANIITA BABIRYE, co-founder of Girls for Climate Action and a youth leader with Feminist Action for Climate Justice, reported that, within the past five years, ecosystems have encroached on her hometown of Jinja, Uganda. Whenever it rains, houses flood, people lose their crops and communities get exposed to water‑borne diseases. This plight is not limited to the eastern part of Uganda. The western district of Kasese is also experiencing such encroachment, where the now regular flooding leaves many residents’ homes flooded, animals killed and crops destroyed. “Families — now climate refugees — have been forced to move to camps sites for shelter, and where possible, a fresh start to life,” she said. Nonetheless, within the camps, there is a presence of school dropouts, teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence, along with a prevalence of HIV, joblessness and absolute poverty, among others.
She went on to note that the climate crisis disproportionately affects marginalized and indigenous communities that highly depend on the environment for their day-to-day livelihood. Climate change, left unattended to, will tear communities apart and, as the crisis intensifies, humanity will be fighting over the few available resources. Noting that adolescent girls are a key population disproportionately impacted by climate issues, she stressed that their leadership must be placed at the forefront these efforts. She also called for collective commitments to keep investing in the solutions initiated by young women and girls, including innovations that increase the resilience of communities to climate change impacts.
SIMA BAHOUS, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said all crises and conflicts exact their highest price on women and girls, pointing to the impact in Myanmar, Afghanistan, the Sahel, Haiti, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia. The horrifying war in Ukraine has joined that list. The Secretary‑General has been clear: the invasion and war in Ukraine must end, and peace must prevail. “We see with every passing day the damage done to the lives, hopes and futures of Ukrainian women and girls,” she said. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the existing inequalities. It brought progress on women´s empowerment to a screeching halt. As with all crises, climate change exacts its highest price on women and girls. Member States have already made many important commitments to gender equality through multilateral environmental agreements such as the Rio conventions and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Now is the time to implement what has already been agreed and create gender action plans where there are gaps.
Stressing the importance of leveraging women’s skills in managing the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, she called for greater investment in women’s resilience. By doing so, “we are building the defences of the future, as well as the assets of today”, she said. For instance, decentralized sustainable energy solutions must be expanded and gender-responsive fisheries in the blue economy must be supported. Currently, less than 17 per cent of the water sector workforce is made up of women. There is potential for an estimated 24 million new jobs in green sectors. It is critical that women are given the training and support to access these jobs, she said, urging the Commission, tasked also with reviewing progress in women’s economic empowerment, to do its part.
The three interlocking and unresolved aspects that are critical to address the nexus between climate change and gender equality — crises, the economy, including care, and violence against women and girls — underpin the structural barriers that block progress for sustainable development, she said. Climate financing is especially needed to support women’s organizations, enterprises and cooperatives. Women and girls must be placed at the centre of climate and environmental policy. “Women are the solution multipliers,” she said, calling upon all to re-commit to the full and meaningful inclusion of the world’s women and girls in climate solutions, as leaders, partners, innovators, implementers and co-creators.
GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS (Peru), Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, expressing deep concern about the grave humanitarian situation in faced by the affected civilian populations, including large numbers of refugee women and children who are compelled to leave behind their loved ones and their homes, called for an end to the hostilities in Ukraine and urged the conflict parties to intensify efforts to seek a peaceful settlement and ensure the equal participation of women in peace processes, in line with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security and the Committee’s general recommendation no. 30 (2013) on women in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations. Noting this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Committee, she said one of its main achievements over the past 40 years has been to ensure that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women covers all forms of discrimination against women.
The Committee is alarmed by the increasing attacks, threats, harassment and killings faced by indigenous women human rights defenders advancing their environmental, land and territorial rights, and those advocating against the implementation of development projects without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned. In that regard, the Committee is currently drafting a general recommendation calling on States to ensure the safety and support the work of these women engaged in advocacy for environmental protection and climate justice. Noting that the pandemic had shifted the world’s attention away from conflict-related gender-based violence, she said that, in November 2021, in a joint statement on “Prevention, protection and assistance for children born of conflict-related rape and their mothers”, the Women’s Rights Committee and the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the grave consequences of sexual violence in conflict. The joint statement informed the analysis and recommendations of the Secretary-General’s related report, also refers to the frameworks of cooperation signed between the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict and both Committees.
In addition, the Women’s Rights Committee issued a joint statement with the Children’s Rights Committee Convention in August 2021 urging the Taliban to uphold the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, decided to request an exceptional report on their situation, and joined two recent joint media statements of human rights mechanisms calling for an end to the military attack against Ukraine and urgent protection of women’s rights, she said. Throughout the pandemic, the Committee continued to carry out its mandated activities under the Convention and the Optional Protocol, yet resources afforded by Member States have not kept pace with its increased workload, particularly under the individual communications and inquiry procedures. She remained hopeful that the outcome of the 2020 Treaty Body Review process will address these resource issues.
REEM ALSALEM, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, called for a closer engagement and working relationship between the Commission on the Status of Women, the treaty bodies and the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Noting that she was a firm believer in collaborative work, she spotlighted her coordinating efforts with the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on specific country situations, such as Afghanistan. In addition, her first report to the Human Rights Council would focus on the important issue of violence against indigenous women and girls, to capitalize on the Committee’s objective to put out a set of recommendations on the rights of indigenous women and girls. “Gender-based violence permeates the experience of most women everywhere,” she said, describing it as one of the most extreme manifestations of discrimination that stand in the way of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Underlining the need for a fuller exploration and tackling of the relationship between the major challenges at present, such as climate change, environmental degradation and violence against women, she commended the assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which captured and reflected such interlinkages, recognizing that many groups of women are amongst the most vulnerable to climate change. However, pointing to a serious lack of data in these reports, she reported that she will be dedicating her first report to the General Assembly in September on the relationship between climate change and environmental degradation and gender-based violence. She also called upon States to reaffirm the existing legal normative framework on gender equality and non‑discrimination, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which continues to be the most widely ratified and fundamental human rights treaty that addresses the rights of women and the responsibilities of States towards ensuring them, including their right to be free from violence.
The Commission on the Status of Women then held a discussion on the theme “Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”.
NKOPANE RASEENG MONYANE (Lesotho), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, noted climate change and environmental degradation disproportionately affect the world’s poor, the majority of whom are women. While greater inclusion of women at the highest levels of decision-making is necessary, it is not sufficient. Women must be able to lead at national and local levels, with their initiatives, indigenous knowledge and perspectives informing and influencing solutions to climate change. While Africa is not responsible for the pollution and the factors causing climate change, it is the most vulnerable to climate change given its low capacity to adapt and respond economically, politically and geographically. Reaffirming the African leadership’s commitment to the outcome of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, he stressed the importance of strengthening the continent’s resilience by building capacities for anticipating and responding to disasters and reducing the impact on people living in vulnerable situations — especially women — through implementing the African Solidarity Initiative. He appealed to partners to fulfil their financial climate commitments and official development assistance (ODA) which are essential for Africa’s adaptations and mitigation plans and to also reduce their greenhouse‑gas emissions.
While agriculture continues to provide most employment opportunities for women and girls in Africa, the impacts of climate change on women are further exacerbated in settings that are affected by violent conflict, sanctions, political instability and economic strife. Women in these settings cannot compete equally with women from other regions; they are excluded from political and economic power, and have limited access to finance and other resources, increasing resources to address their vulnerability to the impacts of global warming. As their financial resources dwindle, women in rural areas are forced to flee their homes, settling in camps and urban dwellings. In those circumstances, women can end up supporting themselves and their families through child marriage and prostitution, and also be subjected to trafficking, violence and exploitation. He called for equal access for all girls and women to secondary and tertiary education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; quality jobs in the sustainable economy, and in climate, environment and disaster risk areas. The gender gap must also be closed in access to education, information and skills to support women’s and girls’ resilience.
ELISABETH MORENO, Minister in Charge of Equality between Women and Men, Diversity and Equal Opportunities of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed solidarity with Ukraine, including the women and girls who are often the first victims of conflict. Expressing concern over Russian attacks on civilians and infrastructure including hospitals and schools, she noted that, in just 19 days, over 2.5 million people — mostly women and children — have fled Ukraine. Advancing gender equality and environmental goals are mutually reinforcing initiatives, she said, citing Europe’s transition to a neutral economy and the European Green Deal. The bloc remains committed to respecting international frameworks on the Sustainable Development Goals, climate change and disaster risk reduction. She called for close alignment on all relevant multilateral commitments, and for decisive and ambitions action. As women in poverty, indigenous women, refugees and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected by climate change, it is crucial to address root causes from a gender dimension and extend measures to include mental and maternal health.
The European Union remains committed to implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as initiatives addressing sexual and reproductive health, as all people should be able to take decisions freely without restrictions or violence. She called for universal access to information and high-level education, including comprehensive sexual education and health‑care services. Citing the European Directive for Gender Equality on company boards, she noted ministers had reached an agreement on the issue today. In addition, the European Year of Youth recognizes the role of young people in climate action and justice. Noting the European Union plays a key role in peacebuilding and is also fighting gender stereotypes, she called for increased participation of women with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and expanding women’s access to decent employment and entrepreneurship in the green, blue and circular economies. Quoting French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, she stressed that the rights of women and girls must be defended every day.
SARAH SCHLITZ, State Secretary for Gender and Equal Opportunity of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the LGBTI Core Group, said this year's theme can highlight the importance of including LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] persons in this discussion. Doing so would ensure that no one is left behind and that no one is discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics. LGBTI persons also experience gender-based violence and discrimination, so their rights, strengths and interests must be taken into account. It is crucial to address the critical links between gender equality, human rights, climate change and environmental issues and the impacts on LGBTI persons, including on their mental health. LGBTI persons face disproportionate risks to violence and discrimination after a disaster, as well as the ongoing impacts of climate change. Factors that exclude LGBTI persons from accessing basic services, such as quality health care and safe water and sanitation, are exacerbated during emergency responses and recovery efforts.
She went on to express concern about the increase in threats and violence against LGBTI human rights defenders, including those working on environmental issues. Women and girls, in all their diversity, must have full, equal, effective and meaningful participation and leadership opportunities at all levels of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction governance. The Secretary‑General's report is timely as it highlights that persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics are at increased risk of gender-based violence and discrimination when attempting to secure assistance after disasters. Their needs are often neglected in disaster risk reduction policies and practices, she said, echoing the Secretary‑General’s view that an effective framework for monitoring and reporting for gender-responsive climate change policies and programs and disaster risk reduction is important.
VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of the Family, said that, since its foundation in 2015, the Group has championed the primary and fundamental role of family as an agent of sustainable and economic development and has always stressed the importance of family-oriented national policies, strategies and programmes to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The family is the basic unit and the starting point to resolve a set of global problems from poverty reduction to climate change. In this regard, it is imperative to understand interrelation and interdependence between climate change and family integrity. The consequences of the dramatic climate changes affect everyone, every family and community in all countries across the globe and can significantly undermine family stability. Climate change and environmental challenges and disasters often result in loss of homes and livelihoods, destruction and damage to schools and health‑care facilities and the displacement of people, their families and communities.
“Family is the first and most important source of our habits,” he said. Family members instil in their children respect and caring attitude towards the nature and form their responsible environmental behaviour from an early age. Children are “permanent observers” of adult’s choices, actions and deeds. Parents share responsibility for the formation of child’s personality, laying a foundation for his or her moral behaviour, norms and lifestyle choices. Recognizing the primary role of the family in cultivating ecological culture and responsibility and the important role of women in this interconnected and interdependent relationship between climate change and family stability, he said women’s great contribution to the welfare of the family and to the development of society, as provided for by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, is essential among other factors for the provision of education on climate, resilience building, preservation and conservation of the environment.
AHMED ADAM BAKHEET, Minister of Social Development of Sudan, speaking on behalf of the Group of Arab States, noted that national resources have been threatened by climate change, leading to the ecological system deterioration, food insecurity and lack of access to clean water. Climate change causes expanded gender disparity, negatively affecting women. The ongoing conflicts also produce an increased number of internally displaced persons, who are already affected by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. He called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and for the equal rights of Palestinian people. In addition, he stressed that it was essential to involve women in climate action through establishing national and regional bodies to implement international normative frameworks and conventions.
The Group’s priority focuses on economic empowerment of women through regional cooperation led by the League of Arab States, in the areas of the green and blue economies, he continued. It was important to allow women to own land through national legislation, and to provide social security for women and girls. It was also imperative to ensure their access to drinking water and food. Based on Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), Arab countries are building capacity of women in peace and security. It was also critical to collect gender disaggregated data, he said, stressing the need to ensure the participation of women in preparing and implementing policies related to climate change and disaster risk reduction.
SOVANN KE (Cambodia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), noted that achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls has always been at the centre of ASEAN’s collective efforts. He highlighted the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on women, who form 70 per cent of front-line responders, bear the burden of unpaid domestic and care work, and are subject to increased domestic violence and loss of employment and income. To address that, the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework seeks to mainstream gender equality throughout the recovery scheme and actions of the Association. Also stressing women’s roles as drivers of the recovery process, he called on States to strengthen women’s empowerment, particularly in the economic sphere such as through digital and financial inclusion.
Recognizing the disproportionate impacts of natural disaster and climate change on women, he noted that women can fulfil key roles in building and sustaining resilience. Women are not merely victims who are affected by such crisis, but also are active agents for transformative change. The ASEAN Gender Mainstreaming Strategic Framework 2021–2025, among other efforts, establishes concrete steps to ensure that gender equality and inclusion are fully integrated in initiatives, including those on climate change and disaster risk reduction. The region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change and is prone to disasters, he pointed out. ASEAN is determined to integrate gender perspectives into policies and plans on climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction, and to work closely with the international community and other stakeholders to put women and girls are at the heart of its collective responses.
FAUSTINA ALVES DE SOUSA, Minister for Social Action for the Family and the Promotion of Women of Angola, speaking on behalf of the Community of Portuguese‑Speaking Countries, noted that language unites more than 260 million people on four different continents. She reiterated a call for the full implementation of the Women’s Rights Convention, Beijing Platform for Action, International Conference on Population and Development and all other international commitments that aim for de facto equality between women and men, as well as the mainstreaming of gender equality in all international agendas. In particular, the Beijing Platform for Action has allowed for adoption of a vast set of recommendations aimed at removing obstacles to active participation of women in all spheres and at all levels of public and private life, so as to ensure their empowerment.
It is also necessary for all actors to make concerted efforts to ensure that climate change and disaster risk reduction measures take gender issues into account, she said. Women undoubtedly possess invaluable knowledge and skills, and are effective agents of change in climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as disaster risk reduction and resilience-building. She called for a holistic and gender-sensitive approach to sustainable development, climate change and the environment, as natural disasters do not affect people equally. Inequalities in exposure and sensitivity to risk, as well as in access to resources, capacities and opportunities systematically disadvantage certain groups of people, in particular women, making them more vulnerable. She deplored the conflict situation that still exists in some Member States, noting the urgent need to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. Citing the memorandum of understanding between the Community and UN-Women she expressed support for joint efforts to overcome common barriers that hinder the development of women and girls, including female genital mutilation, child marriage and human trafficking.
DERYA YANIK, Minister of Family and Social Services of Turkey, also speaking on behalf of Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Australia, said that achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is central to this collective ethos and is a core priority for the group. She reaffirmed the powerful role that women play in food security and the management and conservation of natural resources, including soil and water. It is vital that climate and disaster risk reduction action and strategy be gender-responsive and inclusive, including women and girls in policy planning, development, implementation and monitoring. She also voiced her strong support for the full, equal and meaningful participation of all women in decision-making, leadership and representation at all levels in climate efforts and environmental and disaster risk reduction policies.
She called on all Member States to strongly support efforts to prevent, punish and eliminate gender-based violence. In addition, disaggregated data literacy and gender analysis should be strengthened, including data on unpaid care and domestic work, sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and harmful practices, and access to and management of resources, migration and displacement. She also expressed the group’s support for efforts to expand high‑quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated, including by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics, relevant in national contexts. This would help expand understanding of the impacts of climate change and disasters and help drive gender-responsive policy responses. “We still have a long way until the full realization of our shared vision set out in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including ‘women and environment’ as one of the critical areas of concern,” she said.
ANNA MARIA MOKGETHI, Minister for Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs of Botswana, speaking for the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, stressed that the impacts of climate change aggravate women and girls’ vulnerabilities, especially those highly dependent on the agricultural sector for employment, food security and livelihoods. She also pointed to land degradation which affects an estimated 3.2 billion people worldwide, particularly women in rural communities and smallholder farmers. The COVID-19-related disruptions of food and nutrition systems and increasing food prices worsened the gender food security gap at the global level, as well. Despite the central role women played in the response to COVID-19, they are underrepresented in leadership and decision‑making processes in the health‑care sector itself, she added. Highlighting the issue of unemployment among women during the pandemic, she noted that, in landlocked developing countries, from 2000 to 2019, the proportion of employed population below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day has continuously been higher for women, as compared to men.
Despite the structural inequalities, women and girls remain effective actors and agents of change in their communities and countries, she continued. Highlighting progress in women rights, she noted that the proportion of women in national in landlocked developing countries parliaments increased steadily from 7.8 per cent in 2000 to 27.6 per cent in 2021, higher than the world’s average in 2021. As of 1 January 2021, 11 landlocked developing countries had women in the highest positions of State, either as Heads of State or Government and as Speakers of Parliament. Putting forward key imperative steps, she stressed the need to strengthen climate change resilience and adaptive capacities of smallholder farmers and mobilize adequate financial resources to significantly increase investment in gender-responsive climate change and disaster risk reduction. She also called for targeted support for women to return to economic activity, and efforts to ensure equal pay between men and women and support and services to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls.
Ministerial Round Table I
In the afternoon, the Commission held a ministerial round‑table discussion on the theme “Climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies, and programmes: advancing gender equality through holistic and integrated actions from global to local”.
Ministers and senior officials of Member States exchanged views on steps taken by Governments to advance coordinated and integrated gender perspectives into climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes. They also discussed ways to encourage Governments to increase the availability and accessibility of high-quality financing for gender-responsive policies and programmes in these fields. They considered what measures can be taken by Governments to increase the collection, analysis, dissemination and use of gender statistics and sex-disaggregated data on the risks and impact in relation to climate change, the environment and disasters.
MAITE NKOANA-MASHABANE, Minister for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities of South Africa, who chaired the round table, said integrating gender perspectives into climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes at all levels is critical for the achievement of gender equality and sustainable development. This requires an all-of-government approach. More efforts are needed to create national frameworks for the holistic, coordinated and synergistic gender-responsive implementation of such policies and programmes and their financing at the global, national and local levels. Filling data gaps on the gender-environment nexus, including on climate change and disaster risk reduction, is a key step in informing policies and programmes to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. South Africa has taken stock of progress in implementing its commitments made under the Beijing Declaration and the Paris Agreement, she said, citing her country’s gender‑responsive policy actions, laws it has introduced and international conventions it has ratified. South Africa’s national development plans recognize the importance of gender equality.
ENSIEH KHAZALI, Vice‑President for Women and Family Affairs of Iran, said that a contract was signed between the Vice-Presidency and the Department of Environment to empower women and increase their contribution to environmental protection. The Department employs 1,171 women, who account for 40 per cent of the deputy positions, while 25 per cent of the macro‑management posts in environmental affairs are occupied by women. Women have overseen the Department for four terms so far. In addition, hundreds of women chief executives serve in knowledge-based companies working in the field of environment, biotechnology and energy. A woman also serves as the Secretary of the National Working Group on the Adaptation to Water Shortage.
Mr. YANIK, Minister for Family and Social Service of Turkey, said cooperatives contribute to the fight against climate change by increasing women’s access to resources and economic opportunities. About 6,000 women and 3,000 men will benefit from the Ministry of Family and Social Services’ cooperative project, which aims to develop their capacity and ensure sustainability. To determine the priorities for increasing the resilience of farmers and producers to changing climatic conditions, the Evaluation of Agricultural Producers’ Resilience to Climate Change programme will be expanded to all regions. With the “Zero Waste” project, citizens’ awareness of environmental protection and recycling has increased significantly, with women playing a vital role in the project’s success. Turkey has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2053 and is determined to assume a leading and effective role in resolving climate challenges by placing the Green Development Initiative at the centre of all its efforts.
MAYA MORSY, Minister of Women and President of the National Council for Women of Egypt, said that, despite its limited contribution to climate change her country is among the nations most affected by it. The “Women 2030” national strategy clearly defines women’s role in addressing environmental challenges. Her Government also has a national strategy for climate change adaptation. Egypt’s Cabinet includes a woman Minister for Environment, and a woman Minister for Planning and Economic Development. A National Council for Climate Change has been established, led by the Prime Minister. There are seven actionable areas, among them the strengthening of women’s meaningful participation in environmental governance and leveraging opportunities for women within the just transition to the green and blue economies. Stressing the need for all stakeholders to work together to accelerate progress on women’s empowerment within the climate change agenda, she invited all to attend the twenty-seventh session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
MARIE THÉRÈSE ABENA ONDOA, Minister for Women Empowerment and the Family of Cameroon, said her country is facing an abnormal recurrence of extreme climatic conditions such as strong winds, high temperatures and heavy rainfall that endanger human communities, ecosystems and the services they provide. Climate change reinforces the differences and inequalities between men and women in terms of their vulnerability and their capacity to react to the consequences of its effects. In Cameroon, women make up a large percentage of poor communities that depend on local natural resources for their livelihoods, particularly in rural areas where they bear the burden of family responsibilities, such as water supply and collection of traditional fuel for cooking and heating, but also food security. Her country has ratified all international treaties relating to climate change. The main issues that need to be tackled to ensure the strengthening of mitigation and adaptation efforts which properly integrate gender stem from these treaties and are incorporated into various national programmes.
DEAN JONAS, Minister for Social Transformation, Human Resource Development and the Blue Economy of Antigua and Barbuda, a gendered lens must be used to assess all planned action in relation to the conceptualization, planning and implementation of climate change and disaster risk reduction programmes and policies. This will ensure that the frameworks used by climate and disaster management entities are comprehensively created and comprise specific and strategic plans that meet the unique needs of various groups such as women and girls, the elderly and persons living with disabilities. Furthermore, in the context of small island developing States, such as those in the Caribbean, the identification of sustainable financing mechanisms is critical. This will allow for more proactive relations to pre-emptively strengthen the resilience levels of vulnerable groups and lessen dependence on external support in the aftermath of events that are highly destructive and catastrophic economically and physically.
LENITA FREIDENVALL, Special Adviser for the Ministry of the Labour Market of Sweden, said her country strives to lead in implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, including the goal related to gender equality. Sweden adopted a Climate Policy Action Plan in 2019 which incorporates a gender perspective into all climate action. The Environment Protection Agency has been tasked with developing a strategy to mainstream gender in implementation of the Paris accord, directed towards the public and private sectors, academia and civil society. Sweden has a feminist Government. All ministers are responsible for integrating a gender perspective into their respective policy areas. A gender perspective is always relevant and present in policymaking, she said, both in supporting women and children fleeing the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine and in tackling the climate crisis and its consequences.
In closing remarks, ACHIM STEINER, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the Commission drew strong linkages between gender, climate change, disasters and environmental changes. Speakers highlighted that woman are on the front lines of facing these impacts. The Commission heard references to vulnerability of women in rural areas. It also heard suggestions for designing gender-responsive responses to these global challenges. Many speakers referred to the need for financing that benefits women and stressed that data is a crucial foundation for planning and informing policies. The ministers also underscored the significant role played by laws and constitutions in gender equality and climate action, as well as the importance of women’s leadership and participation.
Also participating were ministers and other high-level representatives from Chile, Suriname, Italy, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Dominican Republic, New Zealand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan, Luxembourg, Panama, Ireland, Nigeria, Qatar, Mozambique, Belgium and Pakistan.
Ministerial Round Table II
The Commission held a second round table on the theme “Women’s voice and agency: good practices towards achieving women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and decision-making in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes”.
In his opening remarks, GATIS EGLITIS, Minister for Welfare of Latvia, who co-chaired the meeting, said women and girls are taking climate and environmental actions at all levels. They hold a deep knowledge of community needs and priorities and they are essential to combating climate change and environmental degradation, reducing disaster risk and building resilience at all levels. Yet, women’s participation and leadership fall short of gender parity and lack the critical mass necessary to influence decisions, policies and strategies. The civil society organizations of women, and especially young women, face multiple barriers to participation and leadership ranging from diminished funding to physical threats to their members. These gender gaps are very concerning as the equal participation and leadership of women make climate, environment and disaster risk governance more effective.
Speaking in his national capacity, Mr. Eglitis said Latvia has committed to reach climate neutrality at a national level by 2050. Changing gender stereotypes in education is the start to achieving women’s full and equal participation. Encouraging more students, especially young women and girls, to choose studies in the science, technology, education and mathematics fields is one of Latvia’s main goals in this area. The Government is working with the private sector to allow women to acquire information and communications technology skills and then enter the labour market. Latvia is also developing supportive family policies that balance work life. During the pandemic, women carried a disproportionately higher burden of the daily household chores and care for family members.
MARTHA LUCÍA RAMÍREZ, Vice-President of and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, said a gender approach is necessary for inclusive global economic growth and to curb climate change. The Government is taking concrete action to control climate change, which is disproportionally affecting women, whom are the caregivers of nature. The development of renewable energies is very important to control the changing climate. The Government is developing public policies to close the pay gap between men and women and ensure women receive the proper renumeration for their work. The management of climate change is an opportunity to move towards gender equality in the country. For example, rural women are gaining work by helping to plant trees.
COLLINS NZOVU, Minister for Green Economy and Environment of Zambia, said climate change has negatively impacted the livelihoods of rural women, who depend on the environment for their livelihoods. To help women and give them access to resources, the Government has put in place several interventions. For example, Vision 2030 provides an approach for development and management of resources that leaves no one behind. The country is working to strengthen its legislative framework to help rural women. Other policies aim to integrate gender equality into climate change programmes. Climate change action plans should consider gender and give women and men equal access to benefits.
LEOTA LAKI LAMOSITELE,, Minister for Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, aligning with the statement delivered by Tuvalu on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said Samoa is committed to advance gender equality and empower all women and girls in the context of climate change, the environment and disaster risk reduction. These are all important continuing efforts to achieve inclusive and sustainable development. With its partners’ support, Samoa has made considerable progress to achieve gender equality, although much more work remains to be done. At the national level, for example, it has developed the National Policy on Gender Equality and Rights of Women and Girls 2021-2031. This programme aims to achieve gender equality and empower women by 2030. It emphasizes the environment pillar and ways to boost the visibility and contribution of women and girls in agriculture, climate change and natural resources and disaster risk management.
WILLIAMETTA E. SAYDEE-TARR, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Liberia, said women are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which could exacerbate existing gender disparities. She encouraged Member States to focus in several areas, including on women’s disproportionate share of unpaid care, domestic and communal work and the associated time constraints that intensify during climate and environmental disasters. Other areas are the high prevalence of violence against women and girls and the lack of access to justice, which worsen during climate and environmental crises and disasters. As part of its national strategy, Liberia is trying to build the capacity of Liberian women and give then technological solutions, such as energy-efficient cook stoves, fish dryers and recycling machines, that can help address the effects of climate change.
AAWATIF HAYAR, Minister for Solidarity, Social Inclusion and Family of Morocco, said the Moroccan Constitution includes provisions for gender equality. There has been great progress in the participation of women in elections and there is a strategy to increase the participation of women parliamentarians. She cited programmes to support women and girls in various areas, such as helping school children in rural areas, protecting women from floods and providing safe drinking water. A national programme for climate aims to transition to a green economy. The development of female entrepreneurs is also important and there are many projects to help women contribute.
LISA TAMMY RAHMING, Minister of State with responsibility for Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development of the Bahamas, said that, since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Bahamas has experienced about 55 hurricanes. In September 2019, the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama experienced Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane that took at least 70 lives, with 282 people reported missing and 30,000 homes and properties destroyed. A loss of $3.4 billion in infrastructure damage was incurred, according to 2019 data kept by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The Bahamas is serious about addressing climate change and health matters and has supported the training of women in climate change and health. Women hold key critical leadership roles in climate change, the environment, disaster risk reduction and gender. The Bahamas recently carried out a mapping and analysis of the country’s gender equality commitments and the ministry chose a climate change and health specialist to lead its gender machinery.
In closing remarks, ÅSA REGNÉR, Deputy Executive Director for Policy, Programme, Civil Society and Intergovernmental Support of UN-Women, said the session provided an opportunity for many voices and points of view to be heard on the issue of gender equality and climate change. Several speakers expressed their solidarity with the women of the Ukraine, where women are victims of violence and also leaders. She called on all Governments and international organizations to increase financing for the defenders of women rights, human rights and the environment. UN-Women stands ready to support all countries in their work.
MAKHOTSO MAGDELINE SOTYU, Deputy Minister of Forestry and the Environment of South Africa, who co-chaired the meeting, thanked the speakers for their contributions.
Also speaking today were ministers and other high-level representatives from Kazakhstan, Austria, Algeria, Ecuador, Finland, Canada, Chad, Lithuania, Malawi, Nepal, Cabo Verde, Norway, Timor-Leste, Ukraine, Niger, Peru and Japan.
* The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release WOM/2212 of 26 March 2021.